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Lost in migration

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Practical work
Topic: Magnetism

Migrant birds are on the move, but how do they find their way South? They rely on magnetism. According to the latest research, many birds have the equivalent of a pilot's head-up display, which allows them to visualise the Earth's magnetic field. In this practical activity, pupils revise and extend their existing ideas about magnetism by considering whether large steel structures, like bridges, could send migrants off course. They simulate what would happen with a simple plotting experiment.

Published: 22nd January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 11

Learning objectives

Pupils should realize that the magnetic field of a magnet is the area around it where magnetised materials, like compass needles, can be attracted and repelled.

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QCA Unit 8J
Pupils should learn: that the area of force around a magnet is called a magnetic field; that the magnetic field around magnets can be shown using iron filings; that magnetic field line patterns show the relative strength of magnetic fields; that the direction of the magnetic field can be plotted using compasses; that the magnetic field lines can show the direction of the magnetic field.

Running the activity

The activity could run for 10-15 minutes.

Starter: Project the image on page 1 as students enter the class and let pupils articulate what they already know about the Earth's magnetism and the effect it has on compasses.

Main Activity: Page 2 presents the task. A birdwatcher has written to 'Science Today' with a theory about why some birds to go off course during migration. It's to do with their magnetic navigation systems. He thinks that steel structures, like bridges, may distort the Earth's magnetic field and send birds off in the wrong direction.
Pupils are asked to check out this theory experimentally. A compass can represent the bird, and its magnetic navigation system, and the base of a clamp stand can act as the steel bridge. Pupils should find that the compass needle is deflected from its N-S orientation as it approaches the steel. A bird moving in the direction indicated by the needle would be deflected from its original course.

Plenary: Pupils could be asked to suggest ways of helping the birds.

News links

BBC Nature
Summer migrants to UK and some data about first arrival dates
Why Files
Information about the navigation of migrating birds in pupil friendly language
Migrating birds
Recent paper about tracking migrants before and after being put in an artificial magnetic field
Model Earth
Instructions for modelling the Earths magnetic field using foam ball, a neodymium magnet and staples.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Lost in migration review

Aug 18th, 2011

4 Star

This was a great activity, tried it on a low ability year 8 group, who after a bit of explaining got the hang of it and enjoyed it.

Reviewer: Karen Duxbury-Watkinson

lesson plans made easy

Apr 3rd, 2011

5 Star

The website makes lesson planning quite easy!!

Reviewer: Jennifer Strasbaugh

year 8 physics

Nov 4th, 2009

5 Star

Very useful and intriguing.Had a very good discussion and the more able students came up with other ideas as to why the birds were migrating like climate change.

Reviewer: Innocent Mutumba

Magnets and Electromagnets

Mar 28th, 2009

5 Star

I used this with SEBD Year 8 pupils. It was a very good way to engage them, although I needed to give a little more information about migration in general.
They enjoyed the practical bit with the compass and tried very hard trying to beat the "clamp stands" bridges.
My pupils came up with some great ways to help the birds, including covering bridges and metal structures with bubble wrap!
Overall this worked well.
Thank you.

Reviewer: Paula Inglis

Lost in migration

Nov 12th, 2007

3 Star

Great for motivating lower sets and encouraging practical based investigation.
A simple way to get students discussing what they've done and why.

Reviewer: Alex Sampson

Lost in migration review

Feb 27th, 2007

4 Star

A simple, quick and engaging activity which worked well with a lower ability yr 8 class. The students found doing a practical in order to answer a more general question exciting and the reply to the letter gave an opportunity to develop skills in drawing conclusions. It also sparked discussion as to whether the practical was a good model of bird migration and allowed students to evaluate and suggest improvements to their work with this in mind.

Reviewer: Ian Jordan

Lost in Migration

Jul 21st, 2006

5 Star

I did this activity at an interview, with a class I didn't know. It worked really well as a short activity to get the children thinking about materials around them.

Reviewer: Tracy Page

Lost in migration December 2005

Jan 3rd, 2006

5 Star

Super activity, class given laminated sheets to work from and use their initiative, with a little guidance and help if necessary. The super sceptics - year 8 - were most impressed with their findings, which they did not expect, even though it had been explained! For some of these children, I think science has just earned more respect!!! What more can we ask?

Reviewer: Sally Lea

Lost in Migration

Oct 15th, 2005

5 Star

The activity worked well with a small year 9 class. This provoked some discussion and allowed the students to share their ideas in small groups. All groups produced some good written response, although this is the part they found most challenging.

Reviewer: Ian Platten

lost in migration

Jul 6th, 2005

5 Star

This was a simple activity which my y8 lower abiity set enjoyed and were able to link up with info they'd learnt in class

Reviewer: Sue Whelan

Lost in Migration

Mar 12th, 2005

5 Star

This worked really well to end a topic with a middle ability class. They were able to apply the knowledge they had learned throughout the Magnets and Electromagnets topic. It is an enjoyable 10 minute activity for them to investigate the problem of birds getting lost during migration.

Reviewer: Emma Griffiths

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